AT least one person died and hundreds more were injured yesterday as tens of thousands gathered for prayers at Kasubi royal tombs that got burnt last week. First-aid teams of the Uganda Red Cross, St Johnâ€™s Ambulance and the Buganda Scouts Council said they had treated over 250 people who had eith
and Jimmy Muwanika
AT least one person died and hundreds more were injured yesterday as tens of thousands gathered for prayers at Kasubi royal tombs that got burnt last week. First-aid teams of the Uganda Red Cross, St Johnâ€™s Ambulance and the Buganda Scouts Council said they had treated over 250 people who had either been trampled upon or squeezed.
This includes those who were injured and others who fainted. The Police put the number of those injured at 146 people, most of them minor.
The Deputy Police spokesperson, Vincent Sekate, confirmed that an elderly woman, Harriet Namuddu from Kalerwe, had died during a stampede at the main gate of the tombs. Sixteen other people were referred to hospital for further treatment.
Sekate explained that Namuddu was trampled upon when people jammed the closed gate, their pressure forcing it to collapse. â€œThe people in front fell and were trampled upon. She (Namuddu) became unconscious and after one hour she passed away,â€ Sekate said, adding that her body was taken to the city mortuary for postmortem.
The prayers were the climax of a week of mourning observed by the Buganda Kingdom over the March 16 inferno that destroyed the internationally recognised cultural heritage site and mausoleum. Four Buganda kings were interred at the tombs.
When the Kabaka, Ronald Mwenda Mutebi II and the Nnabagereka Sylvia Nagginda, arrived at about 10:30am, loyalists surged forward to catch a glimpse. Many people were pushed down and fell in the process.
A number of dignitaries, including ex-Katikkiro, Mayanja Nkangi found it difficult to wade through the mammoth crowd to their seats. Nkangi said it was a sign that the cultural institution has a large following. â€œMany people have come... they are desperate to be here,â€ Nkangi said.
Organisers estimated the crowd at between 50,000 and 100,000. Some spent Thursday night at the site. â€œI cannot put a figure on the people who attended. What I can say is that people came in thousands,â€ Police Spokesperson Judith Nabakooba commented.
Only a quarter of the crowd could fit within the premises of Kasubi tombs. The rest jammed the surrounding villages, from Kasubi to Nakulabye. The Kabaka did not make a speech after the prayers but stood on a podium and waved briefly at the cheering crowds.
All the religious leaders present called for calm and determination to rebuild the tombs.
Rev. Fr. Lawrence Ssemusu, who was the master of ceremony during the prayer, observed that the burning of the tombs had touched â€˜a tender nerveâ€™ in Buganda.
â€œThe dead should have been left to rest in peace. There have been recriminations and counter-recriminations. Maybe no definitive answer will be given. We come here to mend a broken heart,â€ he said.
Catholic Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga asked God to sow seeds of peace and unity in the hearts of Ugandans.
â€œWe shall not lose hope. We shall restore the tombs and erect a wall fence to guard against intruders,â€ he said.
Sheikh Zubair Kayongo called the fire a callous act, vowing that it would not break the Bagandaâ€™s love for their culture and kingdom. â€œThe love for the Kabaka is natural and you canâ€™t stop it like you treat malaria. You cannot dilute that inner-born love because we see the Kabaka as a shadow of God,â€ he said.
Bishop Kityo Luwalira of the Namirembe Anglican diocese said the omnipresent God would show Buganda the arsonist. â€œLet him use the period of lent to repent. You cannot hide anything from God,â€ he said.
Archbishop Yonah Lwanga of the Orthodox Church called for calm as the Baganda embark on the reconstruction and restoration of the sanctity of the tombs.
Among the dignitaries were Prince Barigye of Ankole, the Sabalangira (chief prince) of Buganda, Moses Kayima and former katikkiros (prime ministers) of Buganda.
Local popular musician Ronald Mayinja sang his religious song Land Lord in which he implores God to guard the Kabaka from his enemies.
The Police only deployed outside the perimeters of the tombs while security inside was taken care of by royal guards.
The people who thronged the Kasubi tombs dressed in kanzu (white tunics) without coats and tied bark-cloth strands around their waists. They untied them and left them in the quadrangle of the tombs to symbolise the end of the mourning.
Others wore black shirts or T-shirts with a picture of the tombs or portrait of the Kabaka. Access roads to the tombs had been closed by the Police to control traffic and all VIPs with stickers drove through to the tombs. Most people walked all the way to the tombs.
In a related development, five people were arrested for various minor crimes at the prayers. The crimes included peddling fake money, stealing a mobile phone and being disorderly.
Meanwhile, The Red Pepper tabloid on Friday apologised for a story claiming the Katikkiro, J.B. Walusimbi, had been grilled for five hours by the Police over the Kasubi fire.
â€œIt has since come to our knowledge that the reporters did not get facts right and the information, particularly the quizzing of the katikkiro, was false and did not come from Police,â€ the tabloid wrote.
â€œRed Pepper apologises to the Katikkiro, Police, people of Buganda for the mix-up and discomfort the story could have caused.â€
Three journalists had been arrested on Thursday in connection with the story.
The Police are still investigating the cause of the fire.
President Yoweri Museveni, when visiting the scene the morning after the fire, said he was â€˜suspiciousâ€™ but noted that investigations were hampered by the fact that the scene had been interfered with.
In a press conference on Sunday, the President blasted those spreading rumours that the Government was behind the act.
â€œHow can the NRM government, that has not run mad and is in its right senses, burn the Kasubi tombs? What is the logic?â€ he wondered.
by Brian Mayanja
One dead, 250 hurt at Kasubi prayers